Neal Preserve is one of a number of lands that were acquired by Manatee County in the Sarasota Bay area. This small park features a nature trail that leads out to a view of Sarasota Bay, followed by an observation tower with a panorama of upper Sarasota Bay, Palma Sola Bay, and Holmes Beach. This hike occurred on Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016. Since I had no map of the trail system at Neal Preserve, my plan was to hike the outermost loop of trails at Neal Preserve, in addition to doing all spur trails.
R/T Length of Trail: 0.7 Miles
Duration of Hike: 0:50
Type of Hike: Lasso
Difficulty Rating: 1 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: Minimal
Pros: Great views of coastal mangrove marshes
Points of Interest: Sarasota Bay observation deck; Archaeological sites; Observation tower
Trail Blaze Color(s): None
Best Season(s) to Hike: Year-round
Beginning Point: Neal Preserve Trailhead
Directions: From Holmes Beach, FL: Follow FL State Route 64 East for 1.4 miles. You will cross Srarasota Bay on the Manatee Avenue bridge. When you see the Harbour Isle development entrance to your left, the Neal Preserve will be to your right, just across from the development entrance. Turn right, and park in the designated area.
A map and some other information regarding this hike can be viewed here.
This short nature trail packs a number of interesting features into it, including mangrove wetlands, views of Sarasota Bay, a panorama from an observation tower, and ancient burial places (shell mounds) dating back to 500 BC to 300 BC. There is little information online regarding the trails at Neal Preserve, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but after finishing the hike, I may have expected a bit more than there was, but it is a great stroll nonetheless.
From the parking area off Manatee Avenue, two trails head out. A shell path goes straight from the parking area. On the top right corner, another path (that quickly turns to a boardwalk) heads out as well. There's a couple of ways to do this nature trail, but if you want to do it like I did, then start at the path in the top right corner of the parking lot. The path quickly turns to a boardwalk that leads into a mangrove marsh. The winding boardwalk is very close to Sarasota Bay, although it is not visible through the thick mangrove jungle. At 0.1 miles, reach a junction. Here, there is one of two historic Indian shell mounds, just to the left of the boardwalk. It is not very big, but the rise is visible. At the junction, a boardwalk bears left. This boardwalk connects with the other side of the loop. Turn right to continue on the outer loop. At 0.15 miles, reach another intersection. Here, a boardwalk goes to the right. it leads to a view of Sarasota Bay. Take this spur trail through a mangrove marsh, and at about 0.22 miles, reach the observation deck with a view of Sarasota Bay. At 0.28 miles, return to the main trail. Pass a larger shell mound to your left, and at 0.3 miles, reach another side trail on the right. Take this short side trail to an observation tower with a commanding view of this end of Sarasota Bay. Anna Maria Island and the island community of Holmes Beach is visible.
Return to the main trail at 0.35 miles ,and bear right to continue on the broad pathway through drier forest. At 0.45 miles, the trail curves out into a more open ecosystem with a marsh to the right. At 0.47 miles, reach an intersection. The shell path continues straight to the parking area. However, to maximize mileage, I turned left onto another path. This path is the other end of the connector you saw near the beginning. Wind next to the edge of the forest before using a boardwalk to cross a marsh. At 0.6 miles, reach the end of the connector. bear right onto the boardwalk through the mangrove marsh, and finish the walk at 0.7 miles as you reach the parking area.
0.0 - Neal Preserve Trailhead
0.10 - Junction with connector, bear right
0.15 - Turn right onto side trail to Sarasota Bay
0.22 - View of Sarasota Bay
0.28 - Return to main trail, turn right
0.30 - Turn right onto side trail to observation tower
0.35 - Return to main trail, turn right
0.47 - Turn left onto connector
0.60 - Bear right onto boardwalk
0.70 - Neal Preserve Trailhead
There are little possibilities for variations on this short hike.
Consider visiting nearby Robinson Preserve, which has around 8 miles of hiking trails in a coastal environment similar to the one at Neal Preserve.
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